Getting Engaged

JUL 28, 2013

Engagement is usually something we are popping champagne over. Probably at the same time we are staring wide eyed at a shiny new ring while listening to romantic stories of men being dashing, dropping to one knee, and proposing to their soul mate. Engagement is like that. It is exciting. There is even something called an engagement period – meant to symbolize that magical time when just about anything seems possible. You are not exactly sure what the future will hold, but you have a dream of what might be possible for the two of you.

For the lucky ones, that dream holds through engagement on to a wedding day then to new homes, travel, adventure, children, and so on. For many though, life settles into a routine. We get thrown curveballs. We compromise and occasionally settle for something a little short of that dream. It is normal. Everyone does it. Most of our friends talk to us at the baseball games or dance recitals or BBQs about the old days – the things they did in college or that job where they went for it but it didn’t quite work out. They are not upset; they just seem to reminisce a lot about the “good ole days” before they got stuck in a job or a financial situation that caused them to make tough choices and sacrifice those dreams.

You know people get engaged to companies too. I see it at Trace3 and the companies we work and partner with.

With just about every new hire there is a proposal … and an engagement. There are promises. There is hope that together you can do something very special. There are dreams of innovation or financial success or a work/life balance. Sometimes all those dreams come true. But sometimes in those 2 hour meetings or con calls that you really are not sure you need to be in, there is doubt. The promise of achievement, promotion, reward … it can all be put into doubt and the dream is once again chipped away at and compromised.

I pride myself on running a kick-ass company at Trace3. We write playbooks, we have general managers as cultural CEO’s of regions, we started with 100 dollars and are on track to deliver over $400,000,000 in revenue this year. We see success in most every corner of the company. Yet, I have heard some of our best people are starting to become disenchanted … dare I say disENGAGED.

It could be that 3 peers were all wildly successful and only one got promoted. Maybe a great person partnered with a new rep or engineer that just didn’t match up as well as the old one did. Maybe someone keeps coming up with brilliant ideas but their managers won’t spend the money needed to implement them…or even worse, the manager took credit for the idea to further their own agenda. Man, I hope none of this occurs where I work. It can be horrifying as a CEO to work so hard to root out roadblocks and do everything you can to promote greatness just to see some of your best talent become disengaged for reasons you abhor.

I have realized that as a company grows, especially a company experiencing rapid growth, these concerns become a reality. And worse, the larger you get, the more difficult it is to figure out how to identify and tackle the issues. I think many companies know that this occurs but it is hard to come up with solutions you can implement. The danger of inaction is that companies begin to lose their “A” players or best talent. The danger of action is you have a bunch of executives sitting around a table with very little transparency into what the real roadblocks or issues are – trying to make what turn out to be uninformed or ineffective changes. Troubling. So troubling in fact that I have been working on solving the problem of engagement for the past 7 years.

I believe a company with talented ENGAGED employees is pretty much unstoppable. We can work and fret over things like expense reports or sales forecasts twice a week – OR it could be more effective to focus on coming up with a way to keep everyone in the engagement period.

People leave jobs and go to new ones because they want to be RELEVANT. They don’t yearn for title or for money nearly as much as they yearn for relevance. That is the promise of the new engagement. That is the excitement of the courting period. It is relevance.

I was pretty damn good at making everyone feel relevant at 20 people. Even 40 people. 70…it got tougher. Over 300? What about companies with over 1,000 employees? 10,000? Not so simple…


I have partnered with some great minds and made a product to tackle this issue.

I have narrowed down the initial value prop to this. Engaged Employees producing Actionable (new) Initiatives will give the company Tangible Results (EE+AI=TR). If this proves true, it is worth a company’s effort to keep everyone as engaged as possible.

The product is simple. It captures pain. We will begin by capturing it anonymously by department and will allow management to see pain points from every level of the organization. Let me repeat that in a different way. This product that I am calling Portal of Pain (PoP) will completely flatten the most important information flow in an organization. We will capture pain from the people feeling it the most. We will then let all the participants vote on which pain points are the most relevant/important. This will create a leaderboard of sorts to expose the biggest impediments to progress the company’s people are facing. PoP gives everyone a chance to improve the company. It allows those that give it a lot of thought and effort to prove their value, regardless of position. It gives everyone a chance to shine, the means to be relevant, and the path to stay engaged.

In short, PoP will empower the employees to expose and eliminate pain rather than have the executives sit around trying to piece together a solution. I know, you are thinking you have heard this all before. I have even recommended books about it.

Let me give you an example. I read Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” and even had him speak at two Trace3 events. I loved the idea he references of “20% time.” It was a basic idea that if you gave employees 20 percent of their time to work on anything they wanted to that could improve the company, it would accomplish a couple key things. It would give employees a sense of autonomy, purpose, and value.

Boiled down, 20 percent time has the potential to be pretty awesome. Google and others have proved it can work. Many companies have created new products and services with this idea. I tried it at Trace3 with a couple of my super smart engineers and found something interesting – my company is not Google. (I know…shocker). We came up with some cool ideas, but we didn’t have any of the tools needed to make them actionable. So … I got the ideas and did nothing with them. Turns out, that bums people out.

I factored that into PoP. I have the ability to solve both organizational health issues AND technology issues with PoP. In order to not have this post be a book, I am going to ask that you let me show you rather than try and explain in detail how I can do this. Just trust when I write PoP has two MAJOR benefits – one with Engagment and the other is more top secret. When I talk with clients I will be keying more on the top secret side. In fact, I did four meetings in San Diego explaining to the clients what the products potential was and three clients were more interested in the value prop I have not discussed in this blog than were in the engagement aspect of the product. I love having multiple wins with the product; but for me, ENGAGEMENT of employees…Them feeling RELEVANT…THAT is the holy grail of business. We will start by using the product on ourselves focusing in on Engagement and Relevance.

Trace3 will use PoP in August to make sure your voice is heard. I want to give you feedback on your pain and ideas same day via peer voting. That is the feedback loop I am shooting for – same day. On the best of the leaderboard we will present a plan within weeks and a rudimentary solve within months.

I will be testing the beta with the OC office on August 5th. I have all the EMs and TAMs coming in for that as well to do a peer group based PoP day with each other. I will also be sending an invite out for the second or third week of August to do a Engineering Based PoP day. I want all the technical talent in Trace3 to tell me how to make this company better. The best problems will rise to the top; and the exec team will be striving to solve them within 3 months or better. We care about what you think. We want to hear your ideas and pain. And now we have a product to hold everyone accountable. We want you engaged. I hope you can see, all of this is less about PoP and more about making Trace3 unstoppable. Just so happens the first can really help the second happen. Engage with me and we are going to crush the end of the year. Oh, and get ready to give me some pain. :)

The Fighter Still Remains…


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